An article from Owen Adams for The Guardian newspaper:
Getting off at the wrong bus stop led me to an otherworld of free festivals and brilliant bands. Just don’t expect to read about Tragic Roundabout or the Tofu Love Frogs in the music press
And the award for hardest-working artist on the festival circuit goes to … Florence and the Machine? Hot Chip? Dizzee Rascal? Not likely. It’s the DIY stars who really deserve the props – relished by veterans of the free festival scene, but never appearing in critics’ reviews.
For hardcore festivalgoers, Glastonbury isn’t the next fixture, it’s this weekend’s Solstice. The People’s Free festival at Stonehenge no longer exists, so where to go? Watch Tragic Roundabout fire up their chaotic klezmer cauldron in a field somewhere in Worcestershire, join the Hawklords on a retro-space trip on a Welsh farm, or swoon as Eat Static hit the acid-alien-techno button at the Willowman festival on the North Yorkshire moors.
Yet no matter how big, brilliant and groundbreaking the Solstice gathering, you can be fairly certain no national media outlet will bother covering the event – a photo of druids at Stonehenge will suffice – and the only publicity it will get in the local press is if there’s been any trouble.
This cultural otherworld has flourished for more than 40 years (and the bands regularly whip large crowds into a frenzy), but aside from the tireless chronicles of Festival Eye, the nomadic troubadours of the summer festival circuit are resolutely ignored by the mainstream. Why? Do some people just dismiss everything not on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage as “crusty”?
Logic doesn’t always play a part. Gogol Bordello are feted by Madonna and the mainstream while a dozen British-based bands on the gypsy punk tip are met with complete indifference. Wicked Squad are respected in the dance underground for gypsy techno, and Stenchman for gypsy dubstep, but the free-festival culture that produced much of this remains a music-press taboo. Critics rightly celebrate Tinariwen and nomadic Tuareg sounds, but don’t give British traveller music a second thought.
Crass, who sprang from free-festival culture in the mid 1970s, are one of the few revered acts, applauded for their year-zero edge. But there are many more bands deserving similar respect, such as the proto-punk Pink Fairies (long gone but poorly remembered), the nihilist dub poetry of RDF, the furious ceilidh-punk of the Tofu Love Frogs, not to mention recently reformed anarcho funk-punks Zounds and techno-punks, Sicknote.
Much of what’s happening on the fringes of the UK festival scene is important. I’ve been familiar with it ever since, as a teenager in the mid 1980s, I got off at the wrong bus stop and wandered into a free festival in Milton Keynes. Positioned on a flatbed lorry was a one-chord thrash guitarist and a trio of Bacchae-like women taking turns to scream down the mic. Screech Rock and the Mutoid Waste Company’s spontaneous collaboration, witnessed by hundreds, documented by no one (until now) was just the start. When NME was fixated on the Blur v Oasis grudge match, I was likely to be found Messed Up with Culture Shock, stuck in a Daydream with Back to the Planet, spun out on Ozrics or tuned into Radio Mongolia.
And the free party continues somewhere each weekend (if not thwarted by draconian laws and riot police) with a host of new ingredients, new generations, but with the same Do It approach exemplified by the Pink Fairies at the People’s Free festivals in the 1970s. If you’re not a part of it, then you’re missing out.